Weekly Standard Reviews The Prose Factory

The US neoconservative journal The Weekly Standard in its latest issue has reviewed D J Taylor’s history of the English “man of letters” since World War I . See earlier posts. The book, entitled The Prose Factory, was published earlier this year in the UK and, so far as appears in this article, has as yet found no US publisher. The article links you to Amazon.com which offers an “international edition” sold by third party dealers, rather than Amazon itself.

The review by Dominic Green offers many reasons to search out the book, even though your local library or bookstore may not have it (in the US at least). The Weekly Standard illustrates why it will be of interest by heading its article with a photo of Evelyn and Alec Waugh. Green describes how Taylor uses the careers of the Waugh brothers to illustrate different strands of literary life from which a living could be derived. In the 1920s, during the rivalry between the literary traditionalists and the modernists, Evelyn Waugh split the difference by “merging Dickensian caricature with the speech experiments of Ronald Firbank.” Meanwhile, Alec wrote popular short stories and novels for the middle brow audience:

The solid storyteller Alec Waugh appealed to a far wider audience than his acerbic brother Evelyn, just as Peter Fleming would ultimately be outsold by his brother Ian… The postwar settlement undid the aristocracy, in wealth, government, and letters…. Alec Waugh prospered in Hollywood and Evelyn fumed in Gloucestershire. As the economy of highbrow letters narrowed, and the media became more powerful, the novelists and poets sheltered in the ivory tower and the academics cashed in as talking heads.

Green here oversimplifies matters somewhat. Taylor’s book explains how Evelyn’s works became hugely popular after the war, starting with Brideshead Revisited. Alec at first lost his way, as the market for his stories and novels dried up, but then found success with Island in the Sun. This became a best selling novel and hit movieand Alec lived out his life on the proceeds from that one work. Evelyn’s full blown popularity had to await the revival in his fortunes that came after his death with the 1980s TV adaptation of Brideshead.  


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